During two visits to the Atlantis drilling platform last August and September, MMS inspectors reviewed BP's blowout preventer records. Food & Water Watch said they believe MMS inspectors reviewed the test records and failed to look into the whistleblower's charges that engineering documents were missing. The blowout preventer, however, is an issue at the center of the Deepwater Horizon spill.
An MMS spokesperson did not return calls for comment.
Last October, Food & Water Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for expedited processing, seeking documents from MMS that indicate BP "has in its possession a complete and accurate set of 'as built' drawings ... for its entire Atlantis Project, including the subsea sector." "As-built" means lead engineers on a specific project have to make sure updated technical documents match the "as-built" condition of equipment before its used.
MMS denied the FOIA request.
"MMS does not agree with your assessment of the potential for imminent danger to individuals or the environment, for which you premise your argument [for expedited response]. After a thorough review of these allegations, the MMS, with concurrence of the Solicitor's Office, concludes your claims are not supported by the facts or the law," the agency said in its October 30, 2009, response letter.
In response, MMS said that although some of its regulatory requirements governing offshore oil and gas operations do require "as built" drawings, they need not be complete or accurate and, furthermore, are irrelevant to a hazard analysis BP was required to complete.
Unsatisfied with MMS's response, Food & Water Watch contacted Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), a member of the Committee on Natural Resources and chairman of the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, about the issues revolving around BP's Atlantis operations and provided his office with details of its own investigation into the matter.
On January 15, Westall, the BP attorney, wrote a letter to Deborah Lanzone, the staff director with the House Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals, and addressed the allegations leveled by Food & Water Watch as well as indirect claims the whistleblower made.
Westall said BP "reviewed the allegations" related to "non-compliant documentation of the Atlantis project ... and found them to be unsubstantiated." But Westall's response directly contradicts the findings of Billie Pirner Garde, BP's deputy ombudsman, who wrote in an April 13 email to the whistleblower that his claims that BP failed to maintain proper documentation related to Atlantis "were substantiated" and "addressed by a BP Management of Change document." Garde did not say when that change occurred. But he added that the whistleblower's complaints weren't "unique" and had been raised by other employees "before you worked there, while you were there and after you left."
Westall noted in her letter that "all eight BP-operated Gulf of Mexico production facilities" received safety awards from MMS in 2009.
"Maintenance and general housekeeping were rated outstanding and personnel were most cooperative in assisting in the inspection activities," MMS said about BP's Gulf of Mexico drilling facilities. "Platform records were readily available for review and maintained to reflect current conditions."
Westall maintained that the whistleblower as well as Food & Water Watch had it all wrong. Their charges about missing documents has nothing to do with Atlantis' operational safety. Rather, Westall seemed to characterize their complaints as a clerical issue.
"The Atlantis project is a complex project with multiple phases," Westall said in her letter to Lanzone. "The [August 15, 2008] e-mail [written by Barry Duff, a member of the Atlantis subsea team] which was provided to you to support [Food & Water Watch's] allegations relates to the status of efforts to utilize a particular document management system to house and maintain the Atlantis documents. The document database includes engineering drawings for future phases, as well as components or systems which may have been modified, replaced, or not used."
But Representative Grijalva was not swayed by Westall's denials. He continued to press the issue with MMS, and in February, he and 18 other lawmakers signed a letter calling on MMS to probe whether BP "is operating its Atlantis offshore oil platform ... without professionally approved safety documents."
Grijalva said MMS has not "done enough so far to ensure worker and environmental safety at the site, in part because it has interpreted the relevant laws too loosely."